THERE is something about Roy. It’s nearly a decade since Roy Keane last kicked a ball in professional football. Still, he holds our attention.
I, Keano — the musical about his epic fallout with Mick McCarthy (or General Macarticus) on the eve of the 2002 World Cup, which, as a line from the show has it, “divided a nation like a referendum on abortion” — returns on Wednesday for a run at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre.
Gary Cooke, one third of the Après Match trio, will reprise his roles, including Fergie, from the original 2005 production. He explains why the war on Saipan addled so many Irish people, and why most people continue to be fixated with Keane.
“People were subsuming their hopes and dreams through a football match through one warrior individual who captures the public’s imagination. People are more fascinated with Roy Keane than they probably ever were about George Best.
"People loved Best — he was an amazing footballer, dazzling runs, he was the fifth Beatle and all of this kind of stuff. They thought they could understand Best. He was explainable whereas with Keane it’s unrelentingly open-ended. You can’t quite get to the bottom of the man.”
There is a sense of drift now, though, to Keane. Sports star, great glories; middle years a bit of a muddle.
“The fallen warrior,” says Cooke. “Him doing that punditry stuff on television — there’s a strange turnabout in Keane and his view about these things. On the one hand, he’s saying, ‘These guys are talking shite. It’s a ridiculous job. What are you doing?’ He’s often gone on about it. Yet he’s doing it.
“I get the feeling he has explosions and then just gets on with it. He was doing business with Mick McCarthy, and eventually came around to saying that Mick McCarthy was a very good manager. It’s a fluid thing with Keane.”
Co-written by Father Ted creator Arthur Mathews, I, Keano has already sold over half a million tickets (even Keane has attended a show) in previous runs. Stephen Jones steps into Keane’s boots in the title role this time out while Síle Seoige makes her stage debut as Surfia.
Cooke, who appears as Dunphia among his portfolio of roles, makes the point that Eamon Dunphy is sprinkled with some of the same magic dust that makes Keane so compelling.
“Dunphy has got that magnetic, alluring quality as well. Not many people do. They talk about Bill Clinton’s amazing presence and energy. Dunphy is very intuitive. He has very good instincts, almost animalistic. He described Matt Busby as kind of feline.
“There is an incredible sense of self-preservation there. He’s fluid. It’s like the way people describe seeing UFOs — ‘It was changing shape in the sky and it was shimmering.’ That’s Dunphy’s sense — it’s a constantly movable and moving, gigantic feast. In terms of doing him as a character things move and change very, very quickly.”
Cooke points to the way Dunphy would sit there and criticise Cristiano Ronaldo. “I understand why he said what he did about Ronaldo, or think I do. On the other hand, somebody else who made those comments would be laughed out of town.
“He would say a lot ‘It’s entertainment’, which can be code as well for ‘I’m going to do whatever I want’. It’s all a game to Dunphy. The goal posts — or how he sees it — are constantly moving.”
Cooke adds: “I’m not trying to be an all-knowing psychologist about Keane and Dunphy,” changing gear to adopt a Dunphy drawl: “I’m as much of a spoofer as anyone.”
I, Keano runs from Wednesday, March 25 to Sunday, April 15, Olympia Theatre, Dublin. www.olympia.ie
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